NBA PM: Spain, Turkey Top Threats in 2012
It’s not enough for the US Men’s Basketball Team to simply win gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Americans unashamedly demand mayhem.
We want to revel in our utter dominance. Violent dunks, playground flair, playing to the camera; whatever it takes to impress upon the entire planet that they aren’t fit to share a court with us. We don’t even really care about winning. Winning is neutral to a country that has taken gold 13 times. When the game comes to a merciful conclusion, we want opposing coaches to apologize to Mike Krzyzewski for wasting his team’s time.
But the US National Team isn’t invincible. Outside of the 1980 Moscow Games—which America boycotted— it has two legitimate failures on the resume: 1988 and 2004. (The USSR won gold in 1972 thanks to the infamously controversial officiating in the Gold Medal game). The US had a talented roster in both disappointments (David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and Dan Majerle in 1988; LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson in 2004) but was ultimately undone in each case by chemistry issues and a stiffer competition (Arvydas Sabonis and the USSR in 1988 and Manu Ginobili and Argentina—among others—in 2004).
The “Redeem Team” put the natural order, as we see it, back into effect at the 2008 Beijing Games, but it’s foolish to think that will automatically happen again next summer. Considering the improvements made by the Spanish and Turkish teams in recent years, an undefeated record and even (gasp) the gold aren’t necessarily in the bag.
Here are the biggest threats to Krzyzewski’s squad in 2012:
Spain: Don’t judge the Spanish by the last five minutes of Monday’s loss to Turkey at EuroBasket. The world’s second-ranked team boasts NBA stars Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, Marc Gasol and recently nationalized Serge Ibaka. But, of course, we’re discussing international play, which means heady point guards like former Memphis Grizzly Juan Carlos Navarro tend to make the biggest impacts. Through five games of EuroBasket Navarro is averaging 14.8 PPG and 3.2 APG while making 14 of 33 attempts from 3-point range.
But as deep as Spain’s backcourt is, its real advantage is in the post where the Gasol brothers, Ibaka and even Felipe Reyes and former Blazers draft pick Victor Claver tower over almost every other team. And unlike in 1992, when Chuck Daly’s roster included both Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, America isn’t currently loaded with centers. Dwight Howard intends to play again next summer, which is critical as he was the only legitimate 5 on the roster in 2008. Krzyzewski enlisted the help of Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love to win at the 2010 World Championships. The pair was more than enough to win gold and earn an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympic Games but that was before Spain added Ibaka. By next summer Nets center Brook Lopez, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins or even Al Jefferson and Amar’e Stoudemire could be called upon to add frontcourt depth.
Spain’s biggest issue may be shooting. Besides Navarro, the team lacks a real long-distance threat. Fernandez has his moments from beyond the arc, but isn’t consistent enough to continuously pull defenses away from the paint.
Turkey: American basketball fans are already acquainted with Hedo Turkoglu, but it’s the lesser-known Turkish players that make this squad so dangerous.
Bulls center Omer Asik finished 20th in the NBA in rebounding rate last season, Enes Kanter was taken by the Jazz with the third pick in last June’s draft and Ersan Ilyasova has earned his reputation as the junkyard dog of the Bucks roster. In other words, Krzyzewski can’t expect to finesse this team and get away with it. Turkey has strong, aggressive big men who won’t hesitate to knock a Chris Bosh or Lamar Odom out of the paint. And as Spain discovered in its 65-57 loss on Monday, it’s not easy to score against Turkey. Spain made just 38.2% of its field goals and just four of 17 attempts from 3-point range.
The Turkish defense took a misstep against Lithuania and Poland yet somehow looked almost invincible on Monday. The Achilles’ heel in both losses seemed to be the play of Turkey’s guards. Lithuania was able to hit five of 12 3-point attempts while Turkey’s backcourt failed to make one from beyond the arc. Shooting guard Omer Onan managed to hit one 3-pointer against Poland, which responded with a 10-for-22 mark from range.
This is the type of team that would have beaten the 2004 US Men’s National squad. They’re not going to win on talent alone, but they’re very tough to beat without good outside shooting.
Lithuania: Balanced-scoring, timely shooting, solid defense and smart passing make Lithuania any coach’s favorite. Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas hasn’t been able to contribute much during EuroBasket (he’s played a total of 65 minutes, appearing in four of five games and scoring a total of 28 points, blocking three shots and grabbing 13 rebounds) but power forwards Kristof Lavrinovic and Darius Songaila have kept the Lithuanians respectable on the boards. Valanciunas has another season to improve before the Olympics as well, so it he could be handling the center position for Kestutis Kemzura’s team next summer.
As usual, the Lithuanians have a lot of savvy guards that might not be household names in America like shooting guards Martynas Pocius, Rimantas Kaukenas, point guard Mantas Kalnietis and combo guard and former Warrior and Pacer Sarunas Jasikevicius.
Russia: The Russians are still undefeated at EuroBasket and could be on the verge of reemerging as a world basketball power. In addition to the veteran leadership of Andrei Kirilenko, Viktor Khryapa has transformed himself into the team’s point forward and Aleksey Shved seems poised to take over the reigns at point guard next summer. Shooting guard Vitaliy Fridzon should be of particular concern to Russian opponents as he’s hit 12 of 18 3-point attempts during EuroBasket. Throw in Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, and Russia is suddenly a serious contender for a medal in 2012.
Argentina: The players are the same (Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino, etc.) but Ruben Magnano, the man who guided Argentina to gold in 2004, now coaches the Brazilian squad. Of course, the bigger issue for this squad is age. The vast majority of the team was born in the 1970s and Delfino, who will be turning 30 before next year’s Olympics, is the youngest contributor on the roster.
Brazil: Marcelo Huertas, Guilherme Giovannoni, Alex Garcia and Spurs center Tiago Splitter make Brazil respectable, but this squad won’t go anywhere unless Leandro Barbosa, Nene and Anderson Varejao are all healthy and contributing. In other words, the NBA lockout helps Brazil’s chances.
Other possible threats to America’s supremacy include: Germany, Greece, Australia and possibly Venezuela.
Check Out: Chris Sheridan
Chris Sheridan has been making it look easy for years. One of the coolest, most-respected and flat-out best reporters to cover the NBA, Sheridan has moved on from ESPN to launch Sheridanhoops.com.
Here is his description of what to expect from himself and contributors Mark Heisler, Peter May, Nick Gibson, scout Tony Ronzone and editor Karel Schurman:
“After six years at ESPN and 18 years at the Associated Press, I have gone independent to continue to do what I have been doing for the bulk of my adult life — providing NBA and international basketball news, commentary and in-depth analysis, giving my readers links to the best basketball articles out there each day, while also allowing for the voices of the visitors to this site to reach a broad, worldwide audience. Is this a blog? Yes, sort of. But this is a site that will break news, too, publish dispatches and commentary from around the globe from a staff of distingued correspondents and contributors, while also soliciting your contributions. (Example: Deadspin wouldn’t be Deadspin without the weekly Funbag, and there will be a place for something similar here). It is a new world for me, one with total editorial freedom. I hope you are as excited to be here as I am.”
Sheridan’s first piece, titled “NBA Lockout Update: Sides are closer than they’re saying,” is up, and is definitely worth a read.
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